When you talk about the 2013 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the names Dallas Seavey, John Baker and Lance Mackey come up often.
Seavey hits the trail for the ceremonial start in Anchorage Saturday as not just the defending champion but also the youngest winner in its history. Lance Mackey won four consecutive years from 2007-10, and John Baker holds the record for the fastest time in race history, set two years earlier.
Some combination of the trio should almost certainly play into the drama at the finish. Look beyond those names if you want to find the real drama of the "Last Great Race."
Rookie musher Cindy Abbott, age 54, teaches health science at California State University, Fullerton, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She first visited Alaska and rode behind a team of dogs in 2004. In 2010 she climbed Mt. Everest -- blind in her left eye and battling the rare disorder Wegner's Granulomatosis.
Wegner's Granulomatosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, causes inflammation in blood vessels, restricting blood flow to some organs. It can be fatal, commonly of kidney failure. It has no cure, but it can be controlled.
At the age of 48, already suffering from deteriorating vision and mysterious, seemingly unrelated pysical problems, Abbott decided to climb Everest. Then one day she became dizzy and realized she could not see out of her left eye. It was only after meeting with mulitple specialists that the diagnosis of Wegner's Granulomatosis was made.
She worked toward her goal even after that, first combing Mt. Aconcagua, where she fell and broke her leg, then after a period of recovery Mt. Rainier in Washington, Mt. Elbrus in Russia and Peak Lenin in Kyrgystan. She began her summit of Everest on April 1, 2010, reaching it 53 days later on May 23. This she chronicled in her book Reaching Beyond the Clouds: From Undiagnosed to Climbing Mt. Everest.
Successfully reaching Nome, whether 10 days from now or 20, Abbott would become the only woman to both summit Everest and finish the Iditarod. Like before climbing Everest, she has put in her work. She finished sixth at the 2012 Yukon Quest, and more recently 22nd at the 2013 Copper Basin 300 and 23rd at the Northern Lights 300, both in January. She trained with Mackey.
Then there is Newton Marshall, the Jamaican musher. This won't be his first race: He finished the Iditarod in 12 days 4 hours, 27 minutes and 28 seconds in 2010, good for 47th place out of 71 to become the first Caribbean finisher. He entered again in 2011, but had to scratch due to concern for the health of his dogs.
On his profile at the Iditarod site, Marshall said:
"I want to do the Iditarod because I want to do better in the Race and finish with a good dog team. Mother Nature teaches you how to take care of yourself and take care of the dogs to survive in the wilderness. I like the feeling because it's just me and the dog team. I love running dogs because it's the first sport I fell in love with. ...
"I never got the opportunity to go to school much. I want to show kids from Jamaica or anywhere in the world that if you want something, you have to go get it yourself. The results can be endless"
As for the dogs, all but a few toil in anonymity. Make no mistake, though, having a leader among the canine crew can shift a musher's fortune. Defending champion Seavey could have an issue there. He told former champion Joe Runyan, who keeps a blog at Iditarod.com, that three of his veteran dogs, including Guiness, have retired. However, Diesel, Beetle and Sable now have their chance to shine. "Fortunately, I have 26 new dogs to choose from that are two to three years old," Seavey said. "Their physical talent and genetics should be better than my winning team."
Mackey lists Mayor, Amp and Rev among his possible team members. On his website, he calls Amp a "ROCK STAR," Rev "the Michael Jordan of the team" and Mayor "an awesome leader ... no nonsense kind of guy." Baker, meanwhile, will be led by Snickers, in her fifth Iditarod, and Velvet, in her seventh. The pair won the Golden Harness Award in 2011.
Ten days from now, we could be talking about any of their stories, or we could be talking of Aliy Zirkle, who finished second in 2012, or Aaron Burmeister, who finished fourth. Or maybe another musher and his or her dogs will be be the story told again and again. There are stories to be told around every bend at the Iditarod.